Cothran

According to Marc Soto, the Intelitran general manager in the East Bay, Besser's company would help Intelitran hire minorities, if the firm won the para-transit contract. These minority employees would be hired through Besser's company, Daja Inc. They would also be employees of Daja Inc., Soto says.

(As I listened to Mr. Soto, I was thinking: Isn't this a convenient way for Besser to grow her company at taxpayer expense? Oh wait, I am being cynical now, aren't I? Please forgive me. Of course the Daja employees who would work on Intelitran's dime would work only on para-transit matters. How awful of me to think otherwise, even momentarily.)

But that's not the disturbing part of this contracting mess. The truly disturbing part is this: Besser's subcontract with Intelitran would give her firm $15,000 a year for five years to ... lobby the government!

Yes, that's right: Under the contract proposal the Muni staff seems hellbent on approving, Intelitran could well become the first company in San Francisco history to have a taxpayer-funded lobbyist.

So yes indeed, let's introduce Madame Besser. Welcome to San Francisco, Jackie. So sorry we in the press have not been paying you due attention. You clearly have the kind of moxie worthy of rapt observance.

After CMG was scored as the best bidder, based on written proposals, for the city's para-transit contract, the companies bidding on the contract gave oral presentations. Again, CMG was scored highest. Which isn't surprising. Prominent disabled activists in San Francisco say CMG does a fabulous job; whether the firm's case is represented orally, or with black ink on white paper, shouldn't make much difference.

But since CMG was rated, unsurprisingly, as the best bidder for the disabled transit contract, everything Muni's done has been a surprise.

Normally, after a company scores the highest and bids the lowest for a city contract, the city negotiates solely with that company, turning to other bidders only if talks fall apart. In this case, for some reason, Muni decided to negotiate toward contracts with both Intelitran and CMG simultaneously.

Unable to find major flaws in CMG's proposal -- the firm had been doing the job for the better part of a decade, after all -- the staff nit-picked. Why didn't CMG describe its field experience more completely? (This of a company that has provided the city with services for eight years, and of a woman, Virginia Cerenio, who had worked in the para-transit program for 20 years.)

Why hadn't CMG discussed the computer database it uses to track rides? (Because Muni didn't ask the bidders for that information.)

Worst of all, Cerenio alleges, Muni staff took the CMG proposal, which was built on eight years of practical experience in San Francisco, showed it to competitors, and simply asked if they could do what CMG had been doing and had proposed to do.

"Those were our ideas," she said in an interview. "We weren't very happy at all. All we have to sell is what we know. They took our ideas and used it to negotiate with our competing firm. We were very surprised."

When Muni staff presented its report to the commission, it singled out for praise, and cited as a key reason why Intelitran was a better choice for the city, the company's software package for scheduling and dispatching rides for disabled people.

With all due respect to Intelitran's software package, Cerenio says, the para-transit broker in San Francisco does not run the scheduling and dispatching programs. The cab and van companies that actually move the disabled people do. At least, Cerenio says, the cab and van companies always have run the scheduling and dispatching of their vehicles, and Muni did not signal in its initial requests for bids that it meant to change this arrangement.

Another big plus on Intelitran's side, Muni staff told the commission, was that the company had a deep and comprehensive knowledge of eligibility guidelines.

Those guidelines are contained in a manual formulated by a company hired by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional policy body. Those guidelines were disseminated by the company itself, when it went to para-transit operators in nine Bay Area counties and trained para-transit brokers.

That company?
CMG Inc.

After the Transportation Commission ordered Muni to reassess the para-transit bidding process, the staff didn't ask for new information or proposals from the bidders. Working from the material submitted the first time around, the staff scored Intelitran higher than CMG. Cerenio doesn't understand why she was scored lower the second time around, because she has yet to see the new staff report to the commission.

Muni staffers declined to return my phone calls, so I don't understand their reasons for the flip-flop, either.

From April to July, the period between the two Transportation Commission hearings, both Intelitran and CMG worried about their prospects. And wondered about how to improve them.

Around this time, Cerenio heard that Besser was holding fund-raising parties for Mayor Willie Brown.

A local activist told me Besser had bragged to him that she is tirelessly raising money for the mayor. "She told me that she has been exhausted lately because she has been all over the country raising money for Willie," the activist said. "She said last week she was in Texas and Illinois."

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